Thinking About Thru-Hiking? Pack These Extra Tips With You

Sign, Pacific Crest Trail

Are you think­ing about hik­ing a long-dis­tance trail this upcom­ing sea­son? Whether it’s the AT, CDT or PCT, or any oth­er thru-hike, some good, prac­ti­cal advice can ben­e­fit you on the trail with­out adding weight to your pack. Thru-hik­ing isn’t a fixed ratio of dif­fi­cul­ty (i.e. 30% phys­i­cal & 70% men­tal). The thru-hik­ing life is 100% men­tal and 100% phys­i­cal as you live in the ele­ments night and day for months at a time. To help your body, mind and spir­it get ready for a thru-hike expe­ri­ence of a life­time, why not exer­cise your aware­ness with these extra (and weight­less) thru-hik­ing tips.

Don’t be afraid of going solo
If you pre­fer the com­pa­ny of oth­ers but can’t com­mit any­one to an extend­ed trip, depend­ing on the thru-hike you’re aim­ing for, you won’t have to hike alone for long. North-bound hikes on the Appalachi­an Trail and Pacif­ic Crest Trail have a healthy lev­el of hik­ers every day. Each respec­tive over­see­ing admin­is­tra­tion (ATC & PCTA) have put out num­bers sug­gest­ing that over 3,000 hik­ers have attempt­ed north­bound treks in the last two sea­sons. If you find your­self a part of these sta­tis­tics next sea­son, it’s not dif­fi­cult to find some like-mind­ed hik­ers to trek along with.

Plan as much as you can
Use the offi­cial web­sites as a start­ing point and branch out from there. Use all the resources you can (logs, maps, guide­books, data books, pre­sen­ta­tions and friend­ly beta) to under­stand key aspects of your hike includ­ing resup­ply points, spe­cial­ty gear needs, a rough time­line and an esti­mat­ed bud­get. This will not only let you savor the fla­vor of the actu­al thru-hike more, but it will pro­vide an ade­quate amount of back­ground knowl­edge to inevitably adjust the plan when need­ed.

Bridge Creek Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, North Cascades National Park, Washington State, USA

Start walk­ing
Life on a thru-hike often involves over 40,000 steps and 12+ hours of hik­ing a day. Before you hit those kind of dis­tances, do your­self a favor and add more walk­ing into your dai­ly rou­tine. Walk to work, walk to the gro­cery store and start chang­ing your mind frame as to what is a rea­son­able walk­ing com­mute. A sev­en mile walk to the movie the­ater too far? You won’t think so once you’ve fin­ished your thru-hike. Bonus points are added if you throw on your pack with no-weight, half-weight or as full load.

Begin a blog, pho­to col­lec­tion, or extend­ed project
After weeks or months spent on trail, much of the mag­ic tends to blend togeth­er. Doc­u­ment­ing your jour­ney in some way will not only help solid­i­fy your trav­els into your mind, but it can become an ongo­ing rit­u­al that helps you to go that extra mile. Blogs, pho­to projects, and per­son­al jour­nals are all great options. Oth­er cre­ative out­lets to occu­py your mind include water­col­ors, col­lect­ing post­cards, or extend­ed projects like cap­tur­ing a pic­ture of your­self every mile of the trail.

Adjust your pack
Your pack straps aren’t the only thing that may need adjust­ment. Be ready to adjust all your sys­tems. Plan­ning will help you get a good base, but some­thing will inevitably need to change. The first 600 miles of desert on the PCT requires vast­ly dif­fer­ent gear than the High Sier­ra cross­ing that fol­lows. You might real­ize that your ham­mock isn’t warm enough in the ear­ly Ten­nessee sea­son. Per­haps you’d be more com­fort­able with an ice-axe in the San Juan’s of the CDT. What­ev­er it is, rigid­i­ty is only need­ed in your hik­ing poles, and even those have a lit­tle flex­i­bil­i­ty.

Break it down into sec­tions
Some­where along the way on a thru-hike, you’ll inevitably start doing the men­tal math of your sur­round­ings. How far to the next hut, how many miles until the next town, and how many days it will take to hit the ter­mi­nus. While these Rain-Man cal­cu­la­tions are bound to hap­pen, you have the choice of what equa­tions to focus on. Break­ing the trail down into man­age­able sec­tions can help estab­lish a good frame of mind, whether that’s the offi­cial sec­tions, 100-mile chunks or even just one day at a time. Achiev­ing these man­age­able goals repeat­ed­ly can real­ly add up to a suc­cess­ful trip.

Much like the weath­er, the bad moments will also pass
Plen­ty of fac­tors can damp­en your mood on trail, includ­ing inclement weath­er. Insect swarms, sore-knees, twist­ed-ankles, cold nights, the audi­ble stom­ach groan when any­one men­tions bacon, the list goes on for tem­po­rary side-aches and rea­sons to com­plain. Much like the inclement weath­er though, the storm clouds will pass, and maybe a trail angel will pro­vide you with some break­fast. At times, the key to press­ing on will be in mak­ing key deci­sions when you can see the sun some­where over­head.

How Will You Look Back on the Expe­ri­ence?
Some­thing to think about dur­ing all big deci­sions as well as dur­ing those soli­tary hours of trail, glanc­ing far into the future, ask your­self right now, how do you want to look back on your expe­ri­ence thru-hik­ing?  Is it a con­stant, hard-fought crunch to the end regard­less of the con­di­tions? Or are you seek­ing the Zen-like sat­is­fac­tion of mov­ing at your own pace? Go ahead, write your answer down and pack it with you. Under­stand­ing your expec­ta­tions will help you find exact­ly what you are look­ing for on your thru-hike.

Hike Your Own Hike
The Gold­en Rule of thru-hik­ing: hike your own hike. Whether you are accom­plish­ing a sin­gle sec­tion at a snail’s pace or aim­ing to set speed records, the beau­ty of pub­lic-accessed lands is that you can choose your own adven­ture. The oth­er Gold­en Rule still applies, but if you want to wear a tutu, wear a tutu. If you want to be that hik­er who won’t stop get­ting Tay­lor Swift songs stuck in people’s head, go for it. At the end of the day, at the end of the trail, and a defin­ing part of every thru-hik­ing expe­ri­ence – you get to be you while you’re out there.